MEDEA by Seneca the Younger

January 1, 0001


Translated into English Verse, to Which Have Been Appended Comparative Analyses of the Corresponding Greek and Roman Plays, and a Mythological Index



MEDEA Daughter of Aeëtes, King of Colchis, and wife of Jason.

Jason Son of Aeson, and nephew of Pelias, the usurping king of

Thessaly; organizer and leader of the Argonautic expedition to Colchis

in quest of the golden fleece.

Creon King of Corinth, who had received into his hospitable kingdom

Medea and Jason, fugitives from Thessaly, after Medea had plotted the

death of Pelias.

Nurse Of Medea.


Two Sons Of Medea and Jason (personae mutae).

Chorus of Corinthians Friendly to Jason and hostile to Medea.

THE TIME of the play is confined to the single day of the culmination

of the tragedy, the day proposed by Creon for the banishment of Medea

and marriage of Jason to Creüsa, daughter of Creon.

THE SCENE is in Corinth, in the court of the house of Jason.

*Although the play is confined in time to the final day of catastrophe

at Corinth, the background is the whole romantic story of the

Argonauts: how Jason and his hero-comrades, at the instigation of

Pelias, the usurping king of Thessalian Iolchos, undertook the first

voyage in quest of the golden fleece; how, after many adventures, these

first sailors reached the kingdom of Aeëtes who jealously guarded the

fleece, since upon its possession depended his own kingship; how the

three deadly labors were imposed upon Jason before the fleece could

be won–the yoking of the fiery bulls, the contest with the giants

that sprang from the sown serpent’s teeth, and the overcoming of the

sleepless dragon that ever guarded the fleece; how, smitten by love of

him, the beautiful, barbaric Medea, daughter of the king, by the help

of her magic aided Jason in all these labors and accompanied him in his

flight; how, to retard her father’s pursuit she slew her brother and

scattered his mangled remains in the path as they fled; how again, for

love of Jason, she restored his father to youth and tricked Pelias' own

daughters into slaying their agéd sire; how, for this act, Medea with

her husband were exiled from Thessalia and dwelt in Corinth; how, for

ten happy years, she lived with her husband and two sons in this alien

land, her wild past almost forgotten, her magic untouched.*

*But now, Jason has been gradually won away from his wife, and is about

to wed Creüsa, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. The wedding

festivities have already begun when the play opens and reveals Medea

invoking all the powers of heaven and hell in punishment of her false



Medea: Ye gods of wedlock, thou the nuptial couch’s guard,

Lucina, thou from whom that tamer of the deep,

The Argo’s pilot, learned to guide his pristine bark,

And Neptune, thou stern ruler of the ocean’s depths,

And Titan, by whose rays the shining day is born, 5

Thou triformed maiden Hecate, whose conscious beams

With splendor shine upon the mystic worshipers–

Upon ye all I call, the powers of heaven, the gods

By whose divinity false Jason swore; and ye

Whose aid Medea may more boldly claim, thou world

Of endless night, th' antipodes of heavenly realms,

Ye damnéd ghosts, thou lord of hades' dark domain, 10

Whose mistress was with trustier pledge won to thy side–

Before ye all this baleful prayer I bring: Be near!

Be near! Ye crime-avenging furies, come and loose

Your horrid locks with serpent coils entwined, and grasp

With bloody hands the smoking torch; be near as once 15

Ye stood in dread array beside my wedding couch.

Upon this new-made bride destruction send, and death

Upon the king and all the royal line! But he,

My husband, may he live to meet some heavier doom;

This curse I imprecate upon his head; may he,

Through distant lands, in want, in exile wander, scorned 20

And houseless. Nay, may he once more my favor woo;

A stranger’s threshold may he seek where now he walks

A well-known guest; and–this the blackest curse I know–

May children rise to him to emulate their sire,

Their mother’s image bear.–Now won is vengeance, won!

For I have children borne.–Nay, nay, ‘tis empty plaints 25

And useless words I frame. Shall I not rather rush

Against the foe and dash the torches from their hands,

The light from heaven? Does Father Phoebus suffer this?

Do men behold his face, as, seated in his car,

He rolls along th’ accustomed track of sky serene? 30

Why does he not return to morning’s gates, the law

Of heaven reversing? Grant that I be borne aloft

In my ancestral car! Give me the reins, O sire,

Thy fiery team grant me to guide with lines of flame.

Then Corinth, though with double shore delaying fate, 35

Herself consumed with fire, shall light two seas with flame.

But no, this course alone remains, that I myself

Should bear the wedding torch, with acquiescent prayers,

And slay the victims on the altars consecrate.

Thyself inspect the entrails, and seek there the way 40

By prayer, if still, O soul, thou livest, if there still

Remaineth aught of old-time strength in thee! Away

With woman’s fears! Put on thy heart a breast-plate hard

And chill as Caucasus! Then all the wizard arts

That Phasis knew, or Pontus, shall be seen again

In Corinth. Now with mad, unheard of, dreadful deeds, 45

Whereat high heaven and earth below shall pale and quake,

My pregnant soul is teeming; and my heart is full

Of pictured wounds and death and slaughter.–Ah, too long

On trifling ills I dwell. These were my virgin deeds.

Now that a mother’s pains I’ve felt, my larger heart 50

Must larger crimes conceive. Then passion, gird thyself,

Put on thy strength, and for the issue now prepare!

Let my rejection pay as dread a fee as when,

Of old, through impious deeds of blood, I came to him.

Come, break through slow delay, and let the home once won

By crime, by equal deeds of crime be done away! 55

Chorus [chanting the epithalamium for the nuptials of Jason _and_Creüsa]:

Now on our royal nuptials graciously smiling,

Here may the lords of heaven and the deeps of the ocean

Come while the people feast in pious rejoicing!

First to the gods who sway the scepter of heaven,

Pealing forth their will in the voice of thunder,

Let the white bull his proud head bow in tribute. 60

Then to the fair Lucina, her gift we offer,

White as the driven snow, this beautiful heifer,

Still with her neck untouched by the yoke of bondage.

Thou who alone canst rule the heart of the war-god,

Thou who linkest in peace the opposing nations,

Out of thy generous hand abundance pouring– 65

Thee we offer a daintier gift, O Concord!

Thou who, on the marriage torches attending,

Night’s dark gloom with favoring hand dispellest,

Hither come with languishing footstep drunken,

Binding thy temples fair with garlands of roses! 70

Star of the evening, thou who to twilight leadest

The day, and hailest again the dawn of the morning,

All too slowly thou com’st for lovers impatient,

Eager to see thy sign in the glow of the sunset.

The fairest of girls is she, 75

The Athenian maids outshining,

Or the Spartan maiden with armor laden,

No burden of war declining.

Not by Alpheus' sacred stream,

Nor Boeotia’s musical water,

Is there any fair who can compare 80

With our lovely Corinthian daughter.

Our Thessalian prince excels,

In beauty of form and face,

Even Bacchus, the son of the fierce-flaming one,

Who yokes the wild tigers in place. 85

The murmuring tripod’s lord,

Though the fairest in heavenly story,

The twins with their star bright gleaming afar–

All yield to our Jason in glory. 90

When in her train of courtly maidens she mingles–

Like the bright sunshine paling the starry splendor, 95

Or the full moonlight quenching the Pleiads' brilliance,

So does she shine, all peerless, of fair ones the fairest.

Now, O Jason, freed from the hateful wedlock 100

That held thee bound to the barbarous Colchian woman,

Joyfully wed the fair Corinthian maiden,

While at last her parents' blessings attend thee. 105

Ho then, youths, with licensed jest and rejoicing,

Loud let the songs of gladness ring through the city;

Rarely against our lords such freedom is given.

Fair and noble band of Bacchus, the thyrsus-bearer, 110

Now is the time to light the glittering torches of pinewood.

Shake on high the festal fire with languishing fingers;

Now let the bold and merry Fescennine laughter and jesting

Sound through our ranks. Let Medea fare in silence and darkness,

If perchance another lord she shall wed in her exile. 115


Medea: We are undone! How harsh upon mine ears doth grate

The song! and even now I cannot comprehend

The vast extent of woe that hath befallen me.

Could Jason prove so false? Bereft of native land,

And home, and kingdom, could he leave me here alone

On foreign shores? Oh, cruel, could he quite reject 120

My sum of service, he who saw the fire and sea

With crime o’ercome for his dear sake? And does he think

That thus the fatal chapter can be ended? Wild,

Devoid of reason, sick of soul, my swift mind darts

In all directions seeking whence revenge may come!

I would he had a brother! But his wife–‘gainst her 125

Be aimed the blow! Can thus my wrongs be satisfied?

Nay, nay–to meet my sum of woe must be heaped high

The crimes of Greece, of strange barbaric lands, and those

Which even thy hands have not known. Now lash thy soul

With memory’s scourge, and call thy dark deeds in review: 130

The glory of thy father’s kingdom reft away;

Thy brother, guiltless comrade of thy guilty flight,

All hewn in pieces and his corpse strewn on the deep,

To break his royal father’s heart; and, last of crimes,

Old Pelias by his daughters slain at thy command. 135

O impious one, what streams of blood have flowed to work

Thy ends! And yet, not one of all my crimes by wrath

Was prompted. Love, ill-omened love, suggested all.

Yet, what could Jason else have done, compelled to serve

Another’s will, another’s law? He should have died

Before he yielded to the tyrant’s will. Nay, nay, 140

Thou raging passion, speak not so! For, if he may,

I would that Jason still may live and still be mine,

As once he was; if not, yet may he still live on,

And, mindful of my merits, live without my aid.

The guilt is Creon’s all, who with unbridled power

Dissolves the marriage bond, my children separates 145

From me who bore them, yea, and makes the strongest pledge,

Though ratified with straightest oath, of none effect.

Let him alone sustain my wrath; let Creon pay

The debt of guilt he owes! His palace will I bring

To utter desolation; and the whirling fire

To far-off Malea’s crags shall send its lurid glare. 150

Nurse: Be silent now, I pray thee, and thy plaints confine

To secret woe! The man who heavy blows can bear

In silence, biding still his time with patient soul,

Full oft his vengeance gains. ‘Tis hidden wrath that harms;

But hate proclaimed oft loses half its power to harm.

Medea: But small the grief is that can counsel take and hide

Its head; great ills lie not in hiding, but must rush 155

Abroad and work their will.

Nurse: Oh, cease this mad complaint,

My mistress; scarce can friendly silence help thee now.

Medea: But fortune fears the brave, the faint of heart o’erwhelms.

Nurse: Then valor be approved, if for it still there’s room. 160

Medea: But it must always be that valor finds its place.

Nurse: No star of hope points out the way from these our woes.

Medea: The man who hopes for naught at least has naught to fear.

Nurse: The Colchians are thy foes; thy husband’s vows have failed;

Of all thy vast possessions not a jot is left. 165

Medea: Yet I am left. There’s left both sea and land and fire

And sword and gods and hurtling thunderbolts.

Nurse: The king must be revered.

Medea: My father was a king.

Nurse: Dost thou not fear?

Medea: Not though the earth produced the foe.

Nurse: Thou’lt perish. 170

Medea: So I wish it.

Nurse: Flee!

Medea: I’m done with flight.[9]

Why should Medea flee?

Nurse: Thy children!

Medea: Whose, thou know’st.

Nurse: And dost thou still delay?

Medea: I go, but vengeance first.

Nurse: Th’ avenger will pursue.

Medea: Perchance I’ll stop his course.

Nurse: Nay, hold thy words, and cease thy threats, O foolish one.

Thy temper curb; ‘tis well to yield to fate’s decrees. 175

Medea: Though fate may strip me of all my, myself am left.

But who flings wide the royal palace doors? Behold,

‘Tis Creon’s self, exalted high in Grecian sway.

[Medea retires to back of stage; exit Nurse; enter Creon.]

Creon: Medea, baleful daughter of the Colchian king,

Has not yet taken her hateful presence from our realm. 180

On mischief is she bent. Well known her treach’rous power.

For who escapes her? Who may pass his days in peace?

This curséd pestilence at once would I have stayed

By force of arms; but Jason’s prayers prevailed. She still

May live, but let her free my borders from the fear 185

Her presence genders, and her safety gain by flight.

[He sees Medea approaching.]

But lo, she comes, with fierce and threatening mien, to seek

An audience with us.

[To attendants.]

Slaves defend us from her touch

And pestilential presence! Bid her silence keep,

And learn to yield obedience to the king’s commands. 190

[To Medea.]

Go, speed thy flight, thou thing of evil, fell, and monstrous!

Medea: But tell me what the crime, my lord, or what the guilt

That merits exile?

Creon: Let the guiltless question thus.

Medea: If now thou judgest, hear me; if thou reign’st, command.[10]

Creon: The king’s command thou must abide, nor question aught. 195

Medea: Unrighteous sovereignty has never long endured.

Creon: Go hence, and to the Colchians complain.

Medea: I go,

But let him take me hence who brought me to thy shores.

Creon: Thy prayer has come too late, for fixed is my decree.

Medea: Who judges, and denies his ear to either side,

Though right his judgment, still is he himself unjust. 200

Creon: Didst lend thine ear to Pelias, ere thou judgedst him?

But come, I’ll give thee grace to plead thy goodly cause.

Medea: How hard the task to turn the soul from wrath, when once

To wrath inclined; how ‘tis the creed of sceptered kings

To swerve not from the purposed course they once have taken, 205

Full well I know, for I have tasted royalty.

For, though by present storms of ill I’m overwhelmed,

An exile, suppliant, lone, forsaken, all forlorn,

I once in happier times a royal princess shone,

And traced my proud descent from heavenly Phoebus’ self. 210

My father’s realm extended wide o’er all the land

Where Phasis’ gentle waters flow, o’er Scythia’s plains

Whose rivers sweeten Pontus’ briny waves; where, too,

Thermodon’s banks inclose the race of warlike maids,

Whose gleaming shields strike terror to their foes. All this 215

My father held in sway. And I, of noble birth,

And blessed of heaven, in royal state was high upraised.

Then princes humbly sought my hand in wedlock, mine,

Who now must sue. O changeful fortune, thou my throne 220

Hast reft away, and given me exile in its stead.

Trust not in kingly realms, since fickle chance may strew

Their treasures to the winds. Lo, this is regal, this

The work of kings, which time nor change cannot undo:

To succor the afflicted, to provide at need 225

A trusty refuge for the suppliant. This alone

I brought of all my Colchian treasure, this renown,

This very flower of fame,[11] that by my arts I saved

The bulwark of the Greeks, the offspring of the gods.

My princely gift to Greece is Orpheus, that sweet bard 230

Who can the trees in willing bondage draw, and melt

The crag’s hard heart. Mine too are Boreas’ wingéd sons,

And Leda’s heaven-born progeny, and Lynceus, he,

Whose glance can pierce the distant view–yea, all the Greeks,

Save Jason; for I mention not the king of kings,

The leader of the leaders; he is mine alone,

My labor’s recompense; the rest I give to you. 235

Nay, come, O king, arraign me, and rehearse my crimes.

But stay! for I’ll confess them all. The only crime

Of which I stand accused is this–the Argo saved.

Suppose my maiden scruples had opposed the deed;

Suppose my filial piety had stayed my hand:

Then had the mighty chieftains fall’n, and in their fate

All Greece had been o’erwhelmed; then this, thy son-in-law, 240

Had felt the bull’s consuming breath, and perished there.

Nay, nay, let fortune, when she will, my doom decree;

I glory still that kings have owed their lives to me.

But what reward I reap for all my glorious deeds

Is in thy hands. Convict me, if thou wilt, of sin, 245

But give him back for whom I sinned. O Creon, see,

I own that I am guilty. This much thou didst know,

When first I clasped thy knees, a humble suppliant,

And sought the shelter of thy royal clemency.

Some little corner of thy kingdom now I ask,

In which to hide my grief. If I must flee again, 250

Oh, let some nook remote within thy broad domain

Be found for me!

Creon: That I my power in mercy wield,

And spurn not those who seek my aid let Jason’s self

My witness be, who, exiled, overwhelmed by fate, 255

And smitten sore with fear, a refuge found with me.

For Io, Thessalia’s monarch, bent on vengeance dire,

Seeks Jason at my hand. The cause, indeed, is just:

For that his sire, o’erburdened with the weight of years,

Was foully taken off, while by thy wicked guile 260

His guileless sisters' hands were nerved to do the deed.

If now our Jason can unlink his cause from thine,

‘Tis easy his defense to make, for on his hands

No stain of blood is found. His arm no sword upraised,

And he has had no part nor lot in this thy crime. 265

No, thou and thou alone the arch contriver art,

Uniting in thy person woman’s fertile wit

And man’s effective strength; while in thy reckless heart

No thought of reputation dwells to check thy hand.

Then go thou hence and purge our kingdom of its stain;

Bear hence thy deadly poisons; free the citizens 270

From fear; abiding in some other land than this,

Outwear the patience of the gods.

Medea: Thou bid’st me flee?

Then give me back my bark wherein to flee. Restore

The partner of my flight! Why should I flee alone?

I came not thus. Or if avenging war thou fear’st,

Then banish both the culprits; why distinguish me 275

From Jason? ‘Twas for him old Pelias was o’ercome;

For him the flight, the plunder of my father’s realm,

My sire forsaken and my infant brother slain,

And all the guilt that love suggests; ‘twas all for him.

Deep dyed in sin am I, but on my guilty soul 280

The sin of profit lieth not.

Creon: Why seek delay

By speech? Too long thou tarriest.

Medea: I go, but grant

This last request: let not the mother’s fall o’erwhelm

Her hapless babes.

Creon: Then go in peace. For I to them

A father’s place will fill, and take them to my heart.

Medea: Now by the fair hopes born upon this wedding day, 285

And by thy hopes of lasting sovereignty secure

From changeful fate’s assault, I pray thee grant from flight

A respite brief, while I upon my children’s lips

A mother’s kiss imprint, perchance the last.

Creon: A time

Thou seek’st for treachery. 290

Medea: What fraud can be devised

In one short hour?

Creon: To those on mischief bent, be sure,

The briefest time is fraught with mischief’s fatal power.

Medea: Dost thou refuse me, then, one little space for tears?

Creon: Though deep-ingrafted fear would fain resist thy plea,

A single day I’ll give thee ere my sentence holds. 295

Medea: Too gracious thou. But let my respite further shrink,

And I’ll depart content.

Creon: Thy life shall surely pay

The forfeit if tomorrow’s sun beholds thee still

In Corinth. But the voice of Hymen calls away

To solemnize the rites of this his festal day. 300


Chorus: Too bold the man who first upon the seas,

The treacherous seas, his fragile bark confided;

Who, as the well-known shore behind him glided,

His life intrusted to the fickle breeze;

And, as his unknown seaward course he sped 305

Within his slender craft with foolish daring,

Midway ‘twixt life and death went onward faring,

Along the perilous narrow margin led.

Not yet were sparkling constellations known,

Or sky, all spangled with the starry glory; 310

Not yet could sailors read the warning story

By stormy Hyades upon the heavens thrown.

Not yet was Zeus’s foster-mother famed,

Nor slow Boötes round the north star wheeling; 315

Nor Boreas nor Zephyr gently stealing,

Each feared or welcomed, though as yet unnamed.

First Tiphys dared to spread his venturous sail,

The hidden lesson of the breezes learning,

Now all his canvas to the Zephyrs turning, 320

Now shifting all to catch the changing gale.

Now midway on the mast the yard remains,

Now at the head with all its canvas drawing,

While eager sailors lure the breezes blowing,

And over all the gleaming topsail strains. 325

The guiltless golden age our fathers saw,

When youth and age the same horizon bounded;

No greed of gain their simple hearts confounded;

Their native wealth enough, ‘twas all they knew. 330

But lo, the severed worlds have been brought near

And linked in one by Argo’s hand uniting;

While seas endure the oar’s unwonted smiting, 335

And add their fury to the primal fear.

This impious bark its guilt in dread atoned 340

When clashing mountains were together driven,

And sea, from sea in mighty conflict riven,

The stars besprinkled with the leaping foam. 345

Amid these perils sturdy Tiphys paled,

And from his nerveless hand the vessel bounded;

While stricken Orpheus’ lyre no more resounded,

And tuneful Argo’s warning message failed.

What sinking terror filled each quaking breast,

When near the borders of sea-girt Pelorus, 350

There smote upon their ears the horrid chorus

Of Scylla’s baying wolves around them pressed.

What terror when they neared the Sirens’ lair, 355

Who soothe the troubled waves with witching measures!

But Orpheus filled their souls with nobler pleasures,

And left the foe in impotent despair. 360

And of this wild adventure what the prize,

That lured the daring bark with heroes laden?

The fleece of gold, and this mad Colchian maiden,

Well fit to be the first ship’s merchandize.

The sea, subdued, the victor’s law obeys; 365

No vessel needs a goddess’ art in framing,

Nor oars in heroes’ hands, the ocean taming:

The frailest craft now dares the roughest waves.

Now, every bound removed, new cities rise 370

In lands remote, their ancient walls removing;

While men of Ind by Caspian shores are roving,

And Persia’s face now greets the western skies. 375

The time will come, as lapsing ages flee,

When every land shall yield its hidden treasure;

When men no more shall unknown courses measure,

For round the world no “farthest land” shall be.


[9] Reading, Medea fugiam, as a continuation of Medea’s speech.

[10] Retaining si regnas, iube in Medea’s speech.

[11] Reading, gloriae.


[Medea is rushing out to seek vengeance, while the Nurse *tries in

vain to restrain her*.]

Nurse: My foster-daughter, whither speedest thou abroad? 380

Oh, stay, I pray thee, and restrain thy passion’s force.

[Medea hastens by without answering. The Nurse soliloquizes.]

As some wild Bacchanal, whose fury’s raging fire

The god inflames, now roams distraught on Pindus’ snows,

And now on lofty Nysa’s rugged slopes; so she, 385

Now here, now there, with frenzied step is hurried on,

Her face revealing every mark of stricken woe,

With flushing cheek and sighs deep drawn, wild cries, and tears,

And laughter worse than tears. In her a medley strange

Of every passion may be seen: o’ertopping wrath, 390

Bewailings, bitter groans of anguish. Whither tends

This overburdened soul? What mean her frenzied threats?

When will the foaming wave of fury spend itself?

No common crime, I fear, no easy deed of ill

She meditates. Herself she will outvie. For well

I recognize the wonted marks of rage. Some deed

Is threatening, wild, profane, and hideous. 395

[Re-enter Medea.]


Her face betrays her madness. O ye gods, may these

Our fears prove vain forebodings!

Medea [not noticing the Nurse’s presence]: For thy hate, poor


Dost thou a measure seek? Let it be deep as love.

And shall I tamely view the wedding torches’s glare?

And shall this day go uneventful by, this day,

So hardly won, so grudgingly bestowed? Nay, nay, 400

While, poised upon her heights, the central earth shall bear

The heavens up; while seasons run their endless round,

And sands unnumbered lie; while days, and nights, and sun,

And stars in due procession pass; while round the pole

The ocean-fearing bears revolve, and tumbling streams

Flow downward to the sea; my grief shall never cease 405

To seek revenge, and shall forever grow. What rage

Of savage beast can equal mine? What Scylla famed?

What sea-engulfing pool? What burning Aetna placed

On impious Titan’s heaving breast? No torrent stream, 410

Nor storm-tossed sea, nor breath of flame fanned by the gale,

Can check or equal my wild storm of rage. My will

Is set on limitless revenge!

Will Jason say 415

He feared the power of Creon and Acastus' threats?

True love is proof against the fear of man. But grant

He was compelled to yield, and pledged his hand in fear:

He might at least have sought his wife with one last word

Of comfort and farewell. But this, though brave in heart, 420

He feared to do. The cruel terms of banishment

Could Creon’s son-in-law not soften? No. One day

Alone was giv’n for last farewell to both my babes.

But time’s short space I’ll not bewail; though brief in hours,

In consequence it stretches out eternally.

This day shall see a deed that ne’er shall be forgot.

But now I’ll go and pray the gods, and move high heaven 425

But I shall work my will!

Nurse: Thy heart all passion-tossed,

I pray thee, mistress, soothe, and calm thy troubled soul.

Medea: My troubled soul can never know a time of rest

Until it sees all things o’erwhelmed in common doom.

All must go down with me! ‘Tis sweet such death to die.

[Exit Medea.]

Nurse [calling after her]: Oh, think what perils thou must meet

if thou persist! 430

No one with safety may defy a sceptered king.

[Enter Jason.]

Jason: O heartless fate, if frowns or smiles bedeck thy brow,

How often are thy cures far worse than the disease

They seek to cure! If, now, I wish to keep the troth 435

I plighted to my lawful bride, my life must pay

The forfeit; if I shrink from death, my guilty soul

Must perjured be. I fear no power that man can wield;

But in my heart paternal love unmans me quite;

For well I know that in my death my children’s fate

Is sealed. O sacred Justice, if in heaven thou dwell’st, 440

Be witness now, that for my children’s sake I act.

Nay, sure am I that even she, Medea’s self,

Though fierce she is of soul and brooking no restraint,

Will see her children’s good outweighing all her wrongs.

With this good argument my purpose now is fixed, 445

In humble wise to brave her wrath.

[Enter Medea.]

At sight of me

Her raging fury flames anew! Hate, like a shield,

She bears, and in her face is pictured all her woe.

Medea: Thou see’st, Jason, that we flee. ‘Tis no new thing

To suffer exile, but the cause of flight is strange;

For with thee I was wont to flee, not from thee. Yes,

I go. But whither dost thou send me whom thou driv’st 450

From out thy home? Shall I the Colchians seek again,

My royal father’s realm, whose soil is steeped in blood

My brother shed? What country dost thou bid me seek?

What way by sea is open? Shall I fare again

Where once I saved the noble kings of Greece, and thee, 455

Thou wanton, through the threatening jaws of Pontus’ strait,

The blue Symplegades? Or shall I hie me back

To fair Thessalia’s realms? Lo, all the doors which I,

For thee, have opened wide, I’ve closed upon myself.

But whither dost thou send me now? Thou bid’st me flee, 460

But show’st no way or means of flight.

But ‘tis enough:

The king’s own son-in-law commands and I obey.

Come, heap thy torments on me; I deserve them all.

Let royal wrath oppress me, wanton that I am,

With cruel hand, and load my guilty limbs with chains;

And let me be immured in dungeons black as night: 465

Still will my punishment be less than my offense.

O ingrate! hast thou then forgot the brazen bull,

And his consuming breath? the fear that smote thee, when,

Upon the field of Mars, the earth-born brood stood forth

To meet thy single sword? ‘Twas by my arts that they, 470

The monsters, fell by mutual blows. Remember, too,

The long-sought fleece of gold I won for thee, whose guard,

The dragon huge, was lulled to rest at my command;

My brother slain for thee. For thee old Pelias fell, 475

When, taken by my guile, his daughters slew their sire,

Whose life could not return. All this I did for thee.

In quest of thine advantage have I quite forgot

Mine own.

And now, by all thy fond paternal hopes,

By thine established house, by all the monsters slain 480

For thee, by these my hands which I have ever held

To work thy will, by all the perils past, by heaven

And sea that witnessed at my wedlock, pity me!

Since thou art blessed, restore me what I lost for thee:

That countless treasure plundered from the swarthy tribes

Of India, which filled our goodly vaults with wealth, 485

And decked our very trees with gold. This costly store

I left for thee, my native land, my brother, sire,

My reputation–all; and with this dower I came.

If now to homeless exile thou dost send me forth,

Give back the countless treasures which I left for thee. 490

Jason: Though Creon in a vengeful mood would have thy life,

I moved him by my tears to grant thee flight instead.

Medea: I thought my exile punishment; ‘tis now, I see,

A gracious boon!

Jason: Oh, flee while still the respite holds;

Provoke him not, for deadly is the wrath of kings. 495

Medea: Not so. ‘Tis for Creüsa’s love thou sayest this;

Thou wouldst remove the hated wanton once thy wife.

Jason: Dost thou reproach me with a guilty love?

Medea: Yea, that,

And murder too, and treachery.

Jason: But name me now,

If so thou canst, the crimes that I have done.

Medea: Thy crimes–

Whatever I have done.

Jason: Why then, in truth, thy guilt

Must all be mine, if all thy crimes are mine. 500

Medea: They are,

They are all thine; for who by sin advantage gains,

Commits the sin. All men proclaim thy wife defiled.

Do thou thyself protect her, and condone her sin.

Let her be guiltless in thine eyes who for thy gain

Has sinned.

Jason: But gifts which sin has bought ‘twere shame to take.

Medea: Why keep’st thou then the gifts which it were shame to

take? 505

Jason: Nay, curb thy fiery soul! Thy children–for their sake

Be calm.

Medea: My children! Them I do refuse, reject,

Renounce! Shall then Creüsa brothers bear to these

My children?

Jason: But the queen can aid thy wretched sons.

Medea: May that day never dawn, that day of shame and woe, 510

When in one house are joined the low born and the high,

The sons of that foul robber Sisyphus, and these,

The sons of Phoebus.

Jason: Wretched one, and wilt thou then

Involve me also in thy fall? Begone, I pray.

Medea: Creon hath heard my prayer.

Jason: What wouldst thou have me do? 515

Medea: For me? I’d have thee dare the law.

Jason: The royal power

Doth compass me.

Medea: A greater than the king is here:

Medea. Set us front to front and let us strive;

And of this royal strife let Jason be the prize.

Jason: O’erwearied by my woes I yield. But be thou ware,

Medea, lest too often thou shouldst tempt thy fate. 520

Medea: Yet fortune’s mistress have I ever been.

Jason: But see,

With hostile front Acastus comes, on vengeance bent,

While Creon threatens instant death.

Medea: Then flee them both.

I ask thee not to draw thy sword against the king

Nor yet to stain thy pious hands with kindred blood.

Come, flee with me.

Jason: But what resistance can we make, 525

If war with double visage rear his horrid front,

If Creon and Acastus join in common cause?

Medea: Add, too, the Colchian armies with my father’s self

To lead them; join the Scythian and Pelasgian hordes:

In one deep gulf of ruin will I whelm them all.

Jason: Yet on the scepter do I look with fear.

Medea: Beware,

Lest not the fear, but lust of power prevail with thee.

Jason: Too long we strive: have done, lest we suspicion breed. 530

Medea: Now Jove, throughout thy heavens let the thunders roll!

Thy mighty arm in wrath make bare! Thy darting flames

Of vengeance loose, and shake the lofty firmament

With rending storms! At random hurl thy vengeful bolts,

Selecting neither me nor Jason with thy aim;

That thus whoever falls may perish with the brand 535

Of guilt upon him; for thy hurtling darts can take

No erring flight.

Jason: Recall thee and in calmness speak

With words of peace and reason. Then if any gift

From Creon’s royal house can compensate thy woes,

Take that as solace of thy flight.

Medea: My soul doth scorn 540

The wealth of kings. But let me have my little ones

As comrades of my flight, that in their childish breasts

Their mother’s tears may flow. New sons await thy home.

Jason: My heart inclines to yield to thee, but love forbids.

For these my sons shall never from my arms be reft, 545

Though Creon’s self demand. My very spring of life,

My sore heart’s comfort, and my joy are these my sons;

And sooner could I part with limbs or vital breath,

Or light of life.

Medea [aside]: Doth he thus love his sons? ‘Tis well;

Then is he bound, and in his armored strength this flaw 550

Reveals the place to strike.

[To Jason.]

At least, ere I depart,

Grant me this last request: let me once more embrace

My sons. E’en that small boon will comfort my sad heart.

And this my latest prayer to thee: if, in my grief,

My tongue was over bold, let not my words remain 555

To rankle in thy heart. Remember happier things

Of me and let my bitter words be straight forgot.

Jason: Not one shall linger in my soul; and curb, I pray,

Thy too impetuous heart, and gently yield to fate.

For resignation ever soothes the woeful soul.

[Exit Jason.]

Medea: He’s gone! And can it be? And shall he thus depart, 560

Forgetting me and all my service? Must I drop,

Like some discarded toy, out of his faithless heart?

It shall not be. Up then, and summon all thy strength

And all thy skill! And, this the fruit of former crime,

Count nothing criminal that works thy will. But lo,

We’re hedged about; scant room is left for our designs. 565

Now must the attack be made where least suspicion wakes

The least resistance. Now Medea, on! and do

And dare thine utmost, yea, beyond thine utmost power!

[To the Nurse.]

Do thou, my faithful nurse, the comrade of my grief,

And all the devious wanderings of my checkered course,

Assist me now in these my plans. There is a robe,

The glory of our Colchian realm, the precious gift 570

Of Phoebus’ self to king Aeëtes as a proof

Of fatherhood; a gleaming circlet, too, all wrought

With threads of gold, the yellow gold bespangled o’er

With gems, a fitting crown to deck a princess’ head.

These treasures let Medea’s children bear as gifts 575

To Jason’s bride. But first infuse them with the power

Of magic, and invoke the aid of Hecate;

The woe-producing sacrifices then prepare,

And let the sacred flames through all our courts resound.

Chorus: No force of flame or raging gale,

Or whizzing bolt so fearful is, 580

As when a wife, by her lord betrayed,

Burns hot with hate.

Not such a force is Auster’s blast,

When he marshals forth the wintry storms;

Nor Hister’s headlong rushing stream,

Which, wrecking bridges in its course, 585

Pours reckless on;

Nor yet the Rhone, whose current strong

Beats back the sea; nor when the snows,

Beneath the lengthening days of spring

And the sun’s warm rays, melt down in streams

From Haemus’ top. 590

Blind is the rage of passion’s fire,

Will not be governed, brooks no reins,

And scoffs at death; nay, hostile swords

It gladly courts.

Spare, O ye gods, be merciful, 595

That he who tamed the sea may live.

But much we fear, for the lord of the deep

Is wroth that his realm of the second lot

Should be subdued.

The thoughtless youth who dared to drive

His father’s sacred chariot,

Was by those fires, which o’er the heavens 600

He scattered in his mad career,

Himself consumed.

The beaten path has never proved

The way of danger. Walk ye then

Where your forefathers safely trod,

And keep great nature’s holy laws 605


Whoever dipped the famous oars

Of that bold bark in the rushing sea;

Whoe’er despoiled old Pelion

Of the thick, dark shade of his sacred groves;

Whoever dared the clashing rocks, 610

And, after countless perils passed,

His vessel moored on a barbarous shore,

Hoping to fare on his homeward way

The master of the golden fleece,

All by a fearful end appeased 615

The offended sea.

First Tiphys, tamer of the deep,

Abandoned to an untrained hand

His vessel’s helm. On a foreign shore,

Far from his native land he died;

And now within a common tomb, 620

‘Midst unknown ghosts, he lies at rest.

In wrathful memory of her king

Lost on the sea, did Aulis then

Within her sluggish harbor hold

The impatient ships.

Then he, the tuneful Muse’s son, 625

At whose sweet strains the streams stood still,

The winds were silent, and the birds,

Their songs forgotten, flocked to him,[12]

The whole wood following after–he,

Over the Thracian fields was hurled 630

In scattered fragments; but his head

Down Hebrus’ grieving stream was borne.

The well-remembered Styx he reached,

And Tartarus, whence ne’er again

Would he return.

The wingéd sons of Boreas

Alcides slew, and Neptune’s son 635

Who in a thousand changing forms

Could clothe himself. But after peace

On land and sea had been proclaimed,

And after savage Pluto’s realm

Had been revealed to mortal eyes,

Then did Alcides’ self, alive,

On burning Oeta’s top lie down,

And give his body to the flames; 640

For sore distressed was he, consumed

By Deianira’s deadly gift,

The double blood.

A savage boar Ancaeus slew;

Thou, Meleager, impiously

Thy mother’s brother in wrath didst slay,

And by that angry mother’s hand 645

Didst die. All these deserved their death.

But for what crime did Hylas die,

A tender lad whom Hercules

Long time but vainly sought? For he,

‘Mid waters safe was done to death.

Go then, and fearlessly the deep

Plow with your daring ships; but fear 650

The peaceful pools.

Idmon, though well be knew the fates,

A serpent slew on Afric sands;

And Mopsus, to all others true,

False to himself, died far from Thebes. 655

If he with truth the future sang,

Then Nauplius, who strove to wreck

The Argive ships by lying fires,

Shall headlong fall into the sea.

And for his father’s daring crime 660

Shall Ajax, that Oïleus’ son,

Make full atonement, perishing

‘Midst flame and flood.[13]

And thou, Admetus’ faithful mate,

Shalt[14] for thy husband pay thy life,

Redeeming his from death. But he,

Who bade the first ship sail in quest 665

Of the golden spoil, King Pelias,

Seethed in a boiling cauldron, swam

‘Mid those restricted waves. Enough,

O gods, have ye avenged the sea:

Spare him, we pray, who did but go

On ordered ways.


[12] Reading, cui.

[13] Reading, with a period after profundum and after Oïleus.

[14] Reading, impendes.


Nurse [alone]: My spirit trembles, for I feel the near

approach 670

Of some unseen disaster. Swiftly grows her grief,

Its own fires kindling; and again her passion’s force

Hath leaped to life. I oft have seen her, with the fit

Of inspiration in her soul, confront the gods

And force the very heavens to her will. But now,

A monstrous deed, of greater moment far than these, 675

Medea is preparing. For, but now, did she

With step of frenzy hurry off until she reached

Her stricken home. There, in her chamber, all her stores

Of magic wonders are revealed; once more she views

The things herself hath held in fear these many years,

Unloosing one by one her ministers of ill,

Occult, unspeakable, and wrapt in mystery;

And, grasping with her hand the sacred altar-horn, 680

With prayers, she straightly summons all destructive powers,

The creatures bred in Libya’s sands, and on the peaks

Of frigid Taurus, clad in everlasting snows.

Obedient to her potent charms, the scaly brood 685

Of serpents leave their darksome lairs and swarm to her;

One savage creature rolls his monstrous length along,

And darts his forkéd tongue with its envenomed sting,

Death-dealing; at the charming sound he stops amazed,

And fold on fold his body writhes in nerveless coils. 690

“But these are petty ills; unworthy of my hand,”

She cries, “are such weak, earth-born weapons. Potent charms

Are bred in heaven. Now, now ‘tis time to summon powers

Transcending common magic. Down I’ll draw from heaven

That serpent huge whose body lies athwart the sky 695

Like some great ocean stream, in whose constricting folds

The greater and the lesser Bears are held enthralled,

The greater set as guide for Grecian ships, the less

For Sidon’s mariners! Let Ophiuchus loose

His hand and pour forth venom from his captive thrall!

And let the Python huge, that dared to rear its head 700

Against the heavenly twins, be present at my prayer!

Let Hydra’s writhing heads, which by Alcides’ hand

Were severed, all return to life and give me aid!

Thou too be near and leave thy ancient Colchian home,

Thou watchful dragon, to whose eyes the first sleep came

In answer to my incantations.”

When she thus 705

Had summoned all the serpent brood, she cast her store

Of baleful herbs together; all the poisons brewed

Amid the rocky caves of trackless Eryx; plants

That flourish on the snowy peaks of Caucasus,

Whose crags were spattered with Prometheus’ gore; the herbs 710

Within whose deadly juice the Arab dips his darts,

And the quiver-bearing Mede and fleeing Parthian;

Those potent juices, too, which, near the shivering pole,

The Suabian chieftains gather in Hyrcanian groves.

The seasons, too, have paid their tribute to her stores:

Whatever earth produces in the nesting time,

And when the stiff’ning hand of winter’s frost has stripped 715

The glory from the trees and fettered all the land

With icy bonds; whatever flow’ring plant conceals

Destruction in its bloom, or in its twisted roots

Distils the juice of death, she gathers to her use.

These pestilential herbs Haemonian Athos gave; 720

And these on lofty Pindus grew; a bloody knife

Clipped off these slender leaves on Macedonia’s heights;

Still others grew beside the Tigris, whirling on

His flood to meet the sea; the Danube nourished some;

These grew on bright gem-starred Hydaspes’ tepid stream; 725

And these the Baetis bore, which gave the land its name,

Displacing with its langourous tide, the western sea.

These felt the knife when early dawn begins to break;

The fruit of these was cut in midnight’s gloomy hour;

This fatal crop was reaped with sickle magic-edged. 730

These deadly, potent herbs she takes and sprinkles o’er

With serpent venom, mixing all; and in the broth

She mingles unclean birds: a wailing screech owl’s heart,

A ghastly vampire’s vitals torn from living flesh.

Her magic poisons all she ranges for her use. 735

The ravening power of hidden fire is held in these,

While deep in others lurks the numbing chill of frost.

Now magic runes she adds more potent far.

But lo!

Her voice resounds! and, as with maddened step she comes,

She chants her charms, while heaven and earth convulsive rock.

[Enter Medea, chanting her incantations.]

Medea: I supplicate the silent throng, and you, the gods 740

Of death’s sad rites, and groping chaos, and the home

Of gloomy Pluto, and the black abyss of death

Girt by the banks of Tartarus! Ye storied shades,

Your torments leave and haste to grace the festival

At Hymen’s call! Let stop the whirling wheel that holds

Ixion’s limbs and let him tread Corinthian ground;

Let Tantalus unfrighted drink Pirene’s stream. 745

On Creon’s stock alone let heavier torments fall,

And backward o’er the rocks let Sisyphus be hurled.

You too, the seed of Danaüs, whose fruitless toil

The ever-empty urns deride, I summon you;

This day requires your helping hands. Thou radiant moon, 750

Night’s glorious orb, my supplications hear and come

To aid; put on thy sternest guise, thou goddess dread

Of triple form! Full oft have I with flowing locks,

And feet unsandaled, wandered through thy darkling groves

And by thy inspiration summoned forth the rain

From cloudless skies; the heaving seas have I subdued, 755

And sent the vanquished waves to ocean’s lowest depths.

At my command the sun and stars together shine,

The heavenly law reversed; while in the Arctic sea

The Bears have plunged. The seasons, too, obey my will:

I’ve made the burning summer blossom as the spring, 760

And hoary winter autumn’s golden harvests bear.

The Phasis sends his swirling waves to seek their source,

And Ister, flowing to the sea with many mouths,

His eager water checks and sluggish rolls along.

The billows roar, the mad sea rages, though the winds 765

All silent lie. At my command primeval groves

Have lost their shade;[15] the sun, abandoning[16] the day,

Has stood in middle heaven; while falling Hyades

Attest my charms.

But now thy sacred hour is come, 770

O Phoebe. Thine these bonds with bloody hand entwined

With ninefold serpent coils; these cords I offer thee,

Which on his hybrid limbs Typhoeus bore, who shook

The throne of Jove. This vessel holds the dying blood

Of Nessus, faithless porter of Alcides’ bride. 775

Here are the ashes of the pyre on Oeta’s top

Which drank the poisoned blood of dying Hercules;

And here the fatal billet that Althaea burned

In vengeance on her son. These plumes the Harpies left 780

Within their caverned lair when Zetes drove them forth;

And these the feathers of that vile Stymphalian bird

Which arrows, dipped in Lerna’s deadly poison, pierced.

But lo! mine altar fires resound!

While in the tripod’s answering voice 785

Behold the present deity!

I see the car of Trivia,

Not full and clear as when she drives

The livelong night to meet the dawn;

But with a baleful, lurid glare,

As, harried by Thessalian cries, 790

She holds a more restricted course.

Send such uncanny light abroad!

Fill mortals with a dread unknown;

And let our Corinth’s priceless bronze

Resound, Dictynna, for thy aid! 795

To thee a solemn sacrifice

On bloody altar do we pay!

To thee, snatched from the mournful tomb,

The blazing torch nocturnal burns;

On thee I call with tossing head, 800

And many a frantic gesture make;

Corpselike upon the bier I lie,

My hair with priestly fillet bound;

Before thy awful shrine is waved

The branch in Stygian waters dipped.

And, calling on thy name, with gleaming shoulders bared, 805

Like Bacchus’ mad adorers, will I lash my arms

With sacrificial knife. Now let my life-blood flow!

And let my hands be used to draw the deadly sword,

And learn to shed belovéd blood!

[She cuts her arm and lets the blood flow upon the altar.]

Behold, self-stricken have I poured the sacrifice! 810

But if too oft upon thy name I call,

I pray forgive this importunity!

The cause, O Hecate, of all my prayers

Is ever Jason; this my constant care. 815

[To attendants.]

Take now Creüsa’s bridal robe, and steep in these,

My potent drugs; and when she dons the clinging folds,

Let subtle flames go stealing through her inmost heart.

The fire that in this tawny golden circlet lurks 820

Prometheus gave, who, for his daring heavenly theft

In human aid, endured an ever-living death.

‘Twas Vulcan showed the fires concealed in sulphur’s veins; 825

While from my brother Phaëthon I gained a flame

That never dies; I have preserved Chimera’s breath,

And that fierce heat that parched the fiery, brazen bull

Of Colchis. These dread fires commingled with the gall 830

Of dire Medusa have I bidden keep the power

Of lurking evil. Now, O Hecate,

Give added force to these my deadly gifts.

And strictly guard the hidden seeds of flame.

Let them deceive the sight, endure the touch; 835

But through her veins let burning fever run;

In fervent heat consume her very bones,

And let her fiercely blazing locks outshine

Her marriage torches! Lo, my prayer is heard:

Thrice have replied the hounds of Hecate, 840

And she has shown her baleful, gleaming fires.

Now all is ready: hither call my sons,

And let them bear these presents to the bride.

[Enter sons.]

Go, go, my sons, of hapless mother born, 845

And win with costly gifts and many prayers

The favor of the queen, your father’s wife.

Begone, but quick your homeward way retrace,

That I may fold you in a last embrace.

[Exeunt sons toward the palace, Medea in the opposite direction.]

Chorus: Where hastes this Bacchic fury now,

All passion-swept? what evil deed 850

Does her unbridled rage prepare?

Her features are congealed with rage,

And with a queenly bearing, grand

But terrible, she sets herself 855

Against e’en Creon’s royal power.

An exile who would deem her now?

Her cheeks anon with anger flush,

And now a deadly pallor show;

Each feeling quick succeeds to each, 860

While all the passions of her heart

Her changing aspect testifies.

She wanders restless here and there,

As a tigress, of her young bereft,

In frantic grief the jungle scours. 865

Medea knows not how in check

To hold her wrath nor yet her love;

If love and wrath make common cause,

What dire results will come?

When will this scourge of Corinth leave 870

Our Grecian shores for Colchis’ strand,

And free our kingdom from its fear?

Now, Phoebus, hasten on thy course

With no retarding rein. 875

Let friendly darkness quickly veil the light,

And this dread day be buried deep in night.


[15] Reading, with period after meae.

[16] Reading, relicto, and substituting comma for semicolon.


Messenger [comes running in from the direction of the palace]: Lo,

all is lost! the kingdom totters from its base!

The daughter and the father lie in common dust! 880

Chorus: By what snare taken?

Messenger: By gifts the common snare of kings.

Chorus: What harm could lurk in them?

Messenger: In equal doubt I stand;

And, though my eyes proclaim the dreadful deed is done,

I scarce can trust their witness.

Chorus: What the mode of death?

Messenger: Devouring flames consume the palace at the will 885

Of her who sent them; there complete destruction reigns,

While men do tremble for the very city’s doom.

Chorus: Let water quench the fire.

Messenger: Nay here is added wonder:

The copious streams of water feed the deadly flames;

And opposition only fans their fiery rage

To whiter heat. The very bulwarks feel their power. 890

[Medea enters in time to hear that her magic has been successful.]

Nurse [to Medea]: Oh, haste thee, leave this land of Greece,

in headlong flight!

Medea: Thou bid’st me speed my flight? Nay rather, had I fled

I should return for this. Strange bridal rites I see!

[Absorbed in her own reflections.]

Why dost thou falter, O my soul? ‘Tis well begun; 895

But still how small a portion of thy just revenge

Is that which gives thee present joy? Not yet has love

Been banished from thy maddened heart if ‘tis enough

That Jason widowed be. Pursue thy vengeful quest

To acts as yet unknown, and steel thyself for these.

Away with every thought and fear of God and man; 900

Too lightly falls the rod that pious hands upbear.

Give passion fullest sway; exhaust thy ancient powers;

And let the worst thou yet hast done be innocent

Beside thy present deeds. Come, let them know how slight

Were those thy crimes already done; mere training they 905

For greater deeds. For what could hands untrained in crime

Accomplish? Or what mattered maiden rage? But now,

I am Medea; in the bitter school of woe

My powers have ripened. 910

[In an ecstacy of madness.]

Oh, the bliss of memory!

My infant brother slain, his limbs asunder rent,

My royal father spoiled of his ancestral realm,

And Pelias’ guiltless daughters lured to slay their sire!

But here I must not rest; no untrained hand I bring 915

To execute my deeds. But now, by what approach

Or by what weapon wilt thou threat the treacherous foe?

Deep hidden in my secret heart have I conceived

A purpose which I dare not utter. Oh, I fear

That in my foolish madness I have gone too far–

I would that children had been born to him of this 920

My hated rival. Still, since she hath gained his heart,

His children too are hers–

That punishment would be most fitting and deserved.

Yes, now I see the final deed of crime, and thou,

My soul, must face it. You, who once were called my sons,

Must pay the penalty of these your father’s crimes– 925

My heart with horror melts, a numbing chill pervades

My limbs, and all my soul is filled with sinking fear.

Now wrath gives place, and, heedless of my husband’s sins,

The tender mother-instinct quite possesses me.

And could I shed my helpless children’s blood? Not so,

Oh, say not so, my maddened heart! Far from my hand 930

And thought be that unnameable and hideous deed!

What sin have they that shedding of their wretched blood

Would wash away?

Their sin–that Jason is their sire,

And, deeper guilt, that I have borne them. Let them die;

They are not mine. Nay, nay! they are my own, my sons,

And with no spot of guilt. Full innocent they are, 935

‘Tis true–my brother, too, was innocent. O soul,

Why dost thou hesitate? Why flow these streaming tears,

While with contending thoughts my wavering heart is torn?

As when conflicting winds contend in stubborn strife,

And waves, to stormy waves opposed, the sea invade, 940

And to their lowest sands the briny waters boil;

With such a storm my heart is tossed. Hate conquers love,

And love puts impious hate to flight. Oh, yield thee, grief,

To love! Then come, my sons, sole comfort of my heart, 945

Come, cling within your mother’s close embrace. Unharmed

Your sire may keep you, while your mother holds you too.

[Embraces her sons.]

But flight and exile drive me forth! And even now

My children must be torn away with tears and cries.

Then let them die to Jason since they’re lost to me. 950

Once more has hate resumed her sway, and passion’s fire

Is hot within my soul. Now fury, as of yore,

Reseeks her own. Lead on, I follow to the end!

I would that I had borne twice seven sons, the boast 955

Of Niobe! But all too barren have I been.

Still will my two sufficient be to satisfy

My brother and my sire.

[Sees a vision of the furies and her brother’s ghost.]

But whither hastes that throng

Of furies? What their quest? What mean their brandished fires?

Whom threats this hellish host with horrid, bloody brands? 960

I hear the writhing lash resound of serpents huge.

Whom seeks Megaera with her deadly torch? Whose shade

Comes gibbering there with scattered limbs? It is my brother!

Revenge he seeks, and we will grant his quest. Then come,

Within my heart plunge all your torches, rend me, burn; 965

For lo, my bosom open to your fury’s stroke.

O brother, bid these vengeful goddesses depart

And go in peace down to the lowest shades of hell.

And do thou leave me to myself, and let this hand

That slew thee with the sword now offer sacrifice 970

Unto thy shade.

[Slays her first son.]

What sudden uproar meets my ear?

‘Tis Corinth’s citizens on my destruction bent.

Unto the palace roof I’ll mount and there complete

This bloody sacrifice.

[To her remaining son.]

Do thou come hence with me.

But thee, poor senseless corse, within mine arms I’ll bear. 975

Now gird thyself, my heart, with strength. Nor must this deed

Lose all its just renown because in secret done;

But to the public eye my hand must be approved.

Jason [in the street below shouting to citizens]: Ho, all ye loyal

sons, who mourn the death of kings!

Come, let us seize the worker of this hideous crime. 980

Now ply your arms and raze her palace to the ground.

Medea [appearing on the housetop with her two sons]: Now, now have

I regained my regal state, my sire,

My brother! Once again the Colchians hold the spoil

Of precious gold! And by the magic of this hour

I am a maid once more. O heavenly powers, appeased

At length! O festal hour! O nuptial day! On, on! 985

Accomplished is the guilt, but not the recompense.

Complete the task while yet thy hands are strong to act!

Why dost thou linger still? why dost thou hesitate

Upon the threshold of the deed? Thou canst perform it.

Now wrath has died within me, and my soul is filled

With shame and deep remorse. Ah me, what have I done,

Wretch that I am? Wretch that thou art, well mayst thou mourn, 990

For thou hast done it!

At that thought delirious joy

O’ermasters me and fills my heart which fain would grieve.

And yet, methinks, the act was almost meaningless,

Since Jason saw it not; for naught has been performed

If to his grief be added not the woe of sight.

Jason [discovering her]: Lo, there she stands upon the

lofty battlements! 995

Bring torches! fire the house, that she may fall ensnared

By those devices she herself hath planned.

Medea [derisively]: Not so,

But rather build a lofty pyre for these thy sons;

Their funeral rites prepare. Already for thy bride

And father have I done the service due the dead;

For in their ruined palace have I buried them.

One son of thine has met his doom; and this shall die 1000

Before his father’s face.

Jason: By all the gods, and by the perils of our flight,

And by our marriage bond which I have ne’er betrayed,

I pray thee spare the boy, for he is innocent.

If aught of sin there be, ‘tis mine. Myself I give

To be the victim. Take my guilty soul for his. 1005

Medea: ‘Tis for thy prayers and tears I draw, not sheathe the sword.

Go now, and take thee maids for wives, thou faithless one;

Abandon and betray the mother of thy sons.

Jason: And yet, I pray thee, let one sacrifice atone.

Medea: If in the blood of one my passion could be quenched,

No vengeance had it sought. Though both my sons I slay, 1010

The number still is all too small to satisfy

My boundless grief.

Jason: Then finish what thou hast begun–

I ask no more–and grant at least that no delay

Prolong my helpless agony. 1015

Medea: Now hasten not,

Relentless passion, but enjoy a slow revenge.

This day is in thy hands; its fertile hours employ.

Jason: Oh, take my life, thou heartless one.

Medea: Thou bid’st me pity–

Well! [Slays the second child.]–‘Tis done!

No more atonement, passion, can I offer thee.

Now hither lift thy tearful eyes ungrateful one. 1020

Dost recognize thy wife? ‘Twas thus of old I fled.

The heavens themselves provide me with a safe retreat.

[A chariot drawn by dragons appears in the air.]

Twin serpents bow their necks submissive to the yoke.

Now, father, take thy sons; while I, upon my car,

With wingéd speed am borne aloft through realms of air. 1025

[Mounts her car and is borne away.]

Jason [calling after her]: Speed on through realms of air that

mortals never see:

But, witness heaven, where thou art gone no gods can be!



CONNECT. If you're forging ahead with intellectual projects or have the urge to dive into artistic inquiry with the Protoclassic community, please reach out. 🚀 Drop a line at We're here for the real work. 🔥

"Protoclassic helped me both refine my writing and thinking on substantial intellectual projects all the while keeping an eye to the rapidly evolving online scene. It helped refine and then amplify my message while significantly broadening audience reach and impact." — Nicholas Gruen